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The April 16 voting rights march spearheaded by Mayor Adrian Fenty is widely viewed as a success. About 3,500 people showed up to brave the rain and powerful wind for the cause. The crowd was energetic and diverse.
That’s all well and good, but LL wasn’t swayed until he saw the following: a frustrated, well-dressed driver in a Lexus with Virginia tags pounding his fists on the steering wheel because his normal escape route was blocked by a voting rights march.
If nothing else, it felt good for D.C residents to see their taxpayer-funded police cruisers blocking the streets for a homegrown protest.
The event may not convince the White House or even the marginally Democratic Congress to approve pending legislation granting D.C. a vote in the House of Representatives. But it was proof that the efforts of a motivated mayor on the voting rights front can produce a lot of noise about the second-class status of D.C. residents—a simple feat local voting rights groups haven’t been able to pull off for years. Of course, the march also included some historic moments not necessarily related to the voting rights push. To wit:
• The Public Return of Anthony A. Williams: The guy who took so much grief for not being indignant or obnoxious enough about the city’s lack of representation in Congress started out walking right next to the rest of the political elite. Somehow, he faded into the middle of the throng by the end. “I was right up front at the start, but kept getting pushed back,” the former mayor told LL. “But that’s OK with me,” he said. “I’m just a regular citizen now.” Williams left the march promptly via Metro.
• Erik Gaull Rides Again: The two-time losing candidate for the Ward 3 council seat was able to one-up lots of marchers with his costume and conveyance. Gaull wore a police uniform and helmet. He was on duty as a reserve D.C. police officer. The smiling Gaull was head and shoulders above all the other marchers—he rode on a Segway. It seems Gaull wasn’t exactly assigned to the event. “I wanted to come,” he says. “And so I just told them I am coming and they said fine.” In true nonstop candidate mode, Gaull loaded up on praise for the Segway. “It puts me up above the crowd,” he says. “In terms of an ideal tool for that, it really is perfect.”
• Norton’s First-Ever Abridged Version: When DC Vote Executive Director Ilir Zherka announced to the mob gathered before the capital that the planned program would be abbreviated, old D.C. political hands chuckled. They knew that any such limitations would test the longwinded D.C. congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, who was just itching to get to the microphone.
LL hit the stopwatch figuring the delegate would stay true to form and convert a fired-up but wet and windblown crowd into a frozen and silent horde just looking forward to that indoor post-rally reception.
But her rousing, yelling, pleading speech clocked in at an efficient 4 minutes 50 seconds. It was the shortest public address she’d delivered since she repeated her oath of office.
• Vincent Orange Unofficially Crowned Emancipation Day Czar: The former Ward 5 councilmember sponsored legislation to make Emancipation Day an official District holiday. So Orange took his place in the front row, delighted that his day had taken on a larger civic purpose. Orange had no comment when asked how it all felt, considering Fenty had voted against his Emancipation Day legislation.
• Jack-Booted Thugs for Voting Rights: The rally barely got started before several marchers unfurled a banner that pissed off event organizers—particularly the Fenty worshippers in the crowd.
D.C. school teacher Kerry Sylvia, parent Lee Glazer, and several other protesters stood at the front of the march between the cameras and Fenty carrying a banner that read: “Democracy Starts at Home: Referendum on the Schools Takeover.”
The sign referred to calls by some residents to put the question of Fenty’s schools takeover to a vote of the people. The mayor and council have chosen an easier path: Simply approve the change at the council level and wait for Congress to sign off.
According to Sylvia, the attempt to rib Fenty at his own event was snuffed out by some muscle. “We knew this was Fenty’s gig and it wouldn’t be something people would like,” says Sylvia.
But she didn’t expect the physical confrontation that awaited the sign carriers. Unidentified marchers jostled, pushed, and berated Sylvia’s group. “They tried to move us at first,” she says. “Some of the men were wearing green jackets that said ‘Roving Leaders’ on the back,” says Sylvia. Then the treatment got rougher. “That’s when they started to shove us. They were stepping on our feet and pushing us.”
From LL’s vantage point and according to other witness accounts, several elements of the Fenty apparatus played a role in the scuffle. The guys wearing the “Roving Leaders” jackets are volunteers in a Department of Parks and Recreation program that reaches out to at-risk kids.
Most of the verbal abuse came from voting rights activists, who accused Sylvia and her small gaggle of referendum backers of muddying the message of the march. “We were outnumbered and they just eventually pushed us out of the way,” she says. The mayor’s security detail kept a close watch over the tussle when things started to get a little messy.
After regrouping, the small and shaken referendum contingent joined other marchers and complained about their muzzling to anyone along the route who would listen. The offending banner was then peacefully displayed during the rally speeches.
Mount Pleasant activist Laurie Collins has never had a problem taking on the merchants in her neighborhood. As head of the Mount Pleasant Neighborhood Alliance, she spearheaded a successful effort to ban the sale of single servings of booze in the area and was willing to challenge anyone who opposed the idea down at the Alcohol Beverage Control Board.
Her activism was understandable given that the home she’s lived in for more than two decades on 17th Street NW is within earshot of the main drag.
So when a new neighborhood group was organized with the aim of lifting a ban on live music in Mount Pleasant, Collins wasn’t about to stay out of the fight. Live music is banned under another Collins initiative—voluntary agreements signed by bars and restaurants several years ago. She plans to protect those agreements.
No one was really surprised by the biting Collins money quote in reference to the live music proponents that appeared in a recent story by Washington Post columnist Marc Fisher. “I will be damned if people outside my neighborhood come in and do something that affects my property value,” she told the Post.
There’s only one problem: Collins doesn’t live in Mount Pleasant right now.
She’s a renter in a Cleveland Park apartment complex just down and up Porter Street NW. For the past few months she’s lived up the hill from her old neighborhood. “I am separated from my husband, which causes me to be temporarily away from Mount Pleasant,” she says.
Collins has delivered the “temporary” change of address report to the Mount Pleasant Neighborhood Alliance board. “They have absolutely no problem with it,” says Collins.
Her desire for full disclosure apparently did not extend to Fisher, who had previously interviewed Collins in her Mount Pleasant abode.
“I am not a hypocrite,” says Collins. “I’m not an outsider, so I can’t be a hypocrite.…My body may not be there, but my head and my heart are there in Mount Pleasant,” she says.
• A recent visit to the John A. Wilson Building revealed a jarring change in the gratis car fleet provided to the city’s top officials. The dark blue Crown Victoria assigned to Chairman Vincent Gray was not in its customary spot in the back.
Since late January, the windshield wipers on the vegetating vehicle had not moved from a 45-degree angle. LL noticed only two weeks ago that residue from road salt was still detectable. According Gray’s staff, the car has been driven maybe once or twice since he took office. Gray prefers to tool around in his sporty 2005 BMW.
The empty parking spot prompted an inquiry to Gray’s staff. No, the car had not been stolen. The Beemer was sidelined for routine maintenance, so Gray needed something to drive. The Crown Vic was moved—after a jump—start. Because of idleness, the battery on the chairman’s ride was dead. “The car has an alarm, and from what I understand, it drained all the power out of the battery,” says Gray’s chief of staff, Dawn Slonneger. The battery would not hold a charge, so it was off to the repair shop for the least-used limo in town.
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